Overcoming a PR Crisis: The Mystery of the Wrong Book

By Brian Meeks

Have you heard the one about the PR crisis of Halloween fright-night proportions?

Well, sit back, and prepare to be horrified.

August 19th, 2014 was the best day of my life… for five minutes.

The rest of the day and week that followed were the worst of my life.

Let me explain…I’m a novelist.

I’ve written and published a mystery series, a young adult series (though I use the term “series” loosely as there is only one book), and a thriller.

I also wrote a satire about social media called Underwood, Scotch, and Wry.

August 19th was the official launch date for US&W.

I had spent the previous two months finishing edits, getting the book to beta readers, fixing mistakes, soliciting blurbs from notable people in the world of social media (Gini Dietrich), and trying to figure out how to reach a bunch of people on day one.

Situation Critical

You see, the first 30-days of a book launch are critical for an author.

If the Kindle launch goes really well, your book might make the “Hot New Release List.”

And, if you make that list and stay there for a few days, there is a better than average chance Amazon will include the book in one of their email blasts.

My author friend had this happen back in April of this year.

In her previous 10 years as an indie author, she had made $2,000 dollars.

Yet in the 60 days after her book made the “Hot New Release List” and subsequent Amazon blast, her net profit was more than $20,000.

The launch is a big deal.

But in my quest to be the “Hot New Release,” I had a secret weapon.

The fourth book in my mystery series, Henry Wood: Edge of Understanding, had been accepted for a Free Day Promotion by Bookbub.

That meant I would be giving away more than 45,000 copies of the book on the 19th and 20th, coinciding with the launch of the new satire.

I’ve used such promotions in the past to let people know about a launch by putting a little note at the top of the description of the free book.

Elation and the Fall

Three times I’d reached the number three spot on the Top 100 Free book list.

The Bookbub ad worked great, along with a couple of smaller ads I’d run on other sites.

When the rankings were updated the afternoon of the 19th, Henry Wood: Edge of Understanding was NUMBER ONE!

I called my parents. It was very exciting… for five minutes.

Cue PR crisis of frightening proportions.

You see, the night before I had found a mistake in Edge of Understanding.

So, because I self publish, I fixed it, uploaded the book back to Amazon, and went to bed excited about watching the numbers the next day.

But I hadn’t uploaded Edge of Understanding. I had uploaded Underwood, Scotch, and Wry by accident.

By the time I figured out my mistake, I had already given away 33,000 copies… of the WRONG BOOK!

It was crushing.

I knew what was coming. People would open their Kindle and find not a mystery, but a satire about a luddite college professor!

They would be angry. They would leave scathing one-star reviews and destroy the rating of Edge of Understanding.

And I was right. The average rating for Edge of Understanding quickly crumbled from 4.4 stars down to 3.5.

I felt sick.

Handling the PR Crisis

I wanted to run up to every person with the wrong book and tell them I was sorry.

I couldn’t, though, because I didn’t know who they were.

So I did the only think I could think of—I apologized to each of the people through the reply feature on Amazon and gave them my email.

I told them that if they emailed me, I’d send them the correct book.

A few took me up on it. Some other people noticed the bad reviews and wrote me too.

I sent everyone a copy. But most of the people likely never even saw my reply.

The reality was I had both ruined the launch of my satire and destroyed the rating of Edge of Understanding.

It was the worst day of my life.

The Aftermath

The next week was brutal. It’s like this PR crisis just wouldn’t end. Every day I woke up to more negative reviews and wrote more apologies.

The people who wrote me to get the correct book were very kind.

That helped a little.

After a week, I was finally able to get Amazon to push the correct book out to all 40,000 people who had gotten the wrong one.

This helped even more.

Of the dozen one-star reviews that people left relating to my mistake, one of them has removed her review.

I never ended up doing all the social media stuff, tweeting, and posting to push US&W.

I was too heartsick to even think about it.

The point of paying to give away books is that of the 46,000 people who picked up what they thought was Henry Wood: Edge of Understanding, about two percent of those people would actually enjoy the book enough to actually pay for other books in the series.

I typically earn around $1,800 from a $320 ad during the 30-days following the promotion.

This time I’ll make about half that.

Since the incident, Henry Wood: Edge of Understanding has climbed back up to a 3.9 rating.

When people started reading the correct book they liked it a bunch and left 5-star reviews.

Underwood, Scotch, and Wry, though it didn’t have a fantastic launch, has gotten (17) five-star reviews and (5) four-star reviews for a 4.8 average.

In the end, I didn’t destroy my two books—I just suffered a week of sadness and a little financial setback.

Saying I was sorry was the smart move for two reasons:

  1. It made me feel better.
  2. The explanation on each of the bad reviews may have helped the future potential readers.

So, even if you’re a small operation, there is still a chance that you can make a tiny mistake that turns into the potential for 40,000 angry/confused customers.

And remember: A PR crisis can happen to anyone!

Brian Meeks

Brian D. Meeks is the author of seven novels, including four books in the Henry Wood Detective Series, one thriller, A Touch to Die For, one book in the YA/Middle Grade series, Secret Doors: The Challenge, and a satire about social media, Underwood, Scotch, and Wry. He lives and writes in Martelle, IA, population 252, and follows lots of guinea pigs on Facebook and Twitter.

View all posts by Brian Meeks